The Office of Operations of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Department of Transportation, is the sponsor of this Transportation Management Center (TMC) integration study. For more than a decade the FHWA has been encouraging the widespread deployment of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) to increase transportation system efficiency in the face of growing demand (more vehicles traveling more miles) and severe constraints on supply (difficult and costly to build more road infrastructure). Awareness of the effects of weather and emergency events on traffic operations, mobility and public safety has grown substantially in recent years. The FHWA emphasizes that “uncoordinated deployment of independent systems that are not integrated and which cannot communicate with neighboring or complementary systems provide little if any benefit.” It is a premise of this study that integration of weather and emergency systems and information into transportation operations coupled with effective deployment of ITS will improve performance and offer benefits in increased public mobility, safety and security.
TMC integration reflects how TMC operators, agencies internal to the TMC, external agencies and support systems interact to improve transportation operations, safety and security. Integration is a catalyst and a tool for enhancing operational performance and is one of a variety of strategies available to, and used by, TMCs.
The TMC Integration study documents how weather and emergency information and systems are being integrated into transportation operation now and the potential for applying practical, effective concepts and methods of integration in the future.
This project is part of an ongoing FHWA research effort that seeks to document transportation operations across the country and identify strategies that can enhance the operational effectiveness of transportation management systems in general and TMCs in particular. Enhanced integration facilitates effective transportation operations, especially when transportation infrastructure is affected by weather or other natural or man-made events. Building on the prior research base, this project seeks to document the needs and opportunities for TMC integration of emergency and weather elements and further explore the concepts, methods and potential for integration to benefit operations. A Baseline Conditions Report has been prepared that documents screening interviews with 38 TMCs and site visits with 10 of those TMCs (see Appendix A). The Baseline Conditions Report developed a concept and measures of integration and documented the integrated operations and best practices of 10 of the more advanced TMCs across the country.
This final report builds upon the baseline findings and looks to the future potential of integration in TMCs, while recognizing the uniqueness of local conditions, operating environments and transportation management experience. It explores how the concepts and methods of weather and emergency information integration can be advanced, how challenges to integration can be identified and overcome, and how TMCs can be guided to more effective transportation operations through integration regardless of their starting point.
A recent study by Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) sponsored by the FHWA Office of Operations examined the concept of operations during emergencies and produced several reports. The initial SAIC report identified the needs of transportation and emergency operations for information and tools that can enhance operations during natural and man-made disasters. Integration of information and decision support across participant agencies was identified as critical for improved performance. A companion report prepared by SAIC for the FHWA presented a vision for the next six years “for enhancing the capabilities of freeway transportation managers and freeway traffic management centers (TMCs) to support emergency operations in their communities (p. 4).” This report distinguished emergency transportation operations from traffic incident management, pointing out that these emergency events will “have specific requirements for multi-discipline and multi-jurisdictional coordination that will not be addressed in a typical traffic incident management program (p. 5).” It presented a vision for improvement, through planning, policy development, institutional relationship-building, technical connectivity, and “renewed commitment to multi-organization cooperation (p. 7).”
The FHWA sponsored a similar study to develop a concept of operations for managing weather events. This concept is grounded in three basic operational objectives: maintain and improve safety, maintain and improve mobility, and improve agency productivity. According to the study, to achieve these objectives with regard to operating under adverse weather conditions, a transportation agency gathers information and seeks to predict or anticipate potential impacts, and employs mitigation strategies either in anticipation or in response to impacts. The report concludes that, while weather-responsive traffic operations offers great value to managers, “this concept will be enhanced by [the] establishment of mechanisms for improved coordination within transportation agency divisions and between transportation agencies and other key response agencies…(p. 4‑1).”
Two recent efforts are particularly relevant in support of increased integration of weather information into transportation operations. The first is a National Academy of Science study that provides recommendations for research to “provide a framework to engage the transportation and weather communities [to help them] capitalize on existing capabilities and take advantage of opportunities for advances (p. 2).” The second is the Clarus initiative, discussed in a recent draft report that documents its concept of operations. Clarus provides a network through which TMCs can access surface weather data and transportation conditions, and it provides for development of models and tools that can enhance a TMC’s ability to forecast weather conditions and potential impacts on road conditions.
This report on TMC integration builds on prior research on the concept of operations in TMCs and the FHWA’s efforts to enhance transportation safety and efficiency through closer collaboration between traffic operators, weather providers and emergency service providers.
The project baseline report shows that each TMC faces a different mix of circumstances and operational challenges, and a different set of needs for which better integration could be beneficial. Is more integration always better? This study demonstrates that the benefits from increased integration depend on how well integrated the TMC already is, their perceived need for further integration, and a set of conditions that help determine the value that integration can offer. The baseline study also made clear that one concept of integration does not fit all TMCs. A concept of integration describes what integration looks like in a particular TMC application; and the methods of integration describe how a particular concept of integration can be achieved. This final report presents current concepts and methods, based on observed best practices in some TMCs, and explores a vision of future concepts and methods of integration for weather and emergency elements. It seeks to clarify the circumstances under which a TMC can be expected to benefit from enhanced integration.
A conceptual framework is helpful in explaining how an integration concept is shaped in a particular TMC, faced with real event challenges, drawing on available resources and institutional support.
A concept of integration reflects a blending of four key determinants that influence the “look and feel”of integration in any particular TMC. Figure 1 offers a conceptual framework for considering why a concept takes the form it does, as well as a set of strategies for achieving integration. Any given concept of integration is shaped by the following four determinants:
How these four determinants are experienced at a TMC shapes the structure and potential of integration (the concept of integration) in support of the operational functions and outcomes desired by the TMC. Integration supports the observed core functions of a TMC, such as traffic control, incident management, and dissemination of information to travelers, by facilitating better inter- and intra-agency decision-making and bringing accurate, relevant real-time data from a variety of sources inside and outside the TMC to address transportation management. Integration also has the potential to support advanced technologies and decision tools in advancing the operational effectiveness of TMCs in the future.
Interviews with TMC operators across the country as part of the baseline data gathering for this project confirmed a shared understanding of the purpose of integration.
The purpose of weather and emergency integration is to achieve optimal performance of a TMC in managing the transportation system during weather and emergency events in support of their customers’ needs.
TMCs are very practical in seeking efficient and effective ways to better manage traffic and transit operations. The presence of weather-related events or regional emergencies increases the challenge and complexity of TMC operations, and underscores the practical benefits to be derived from coordinating with maintenance, law enforcement, incident management, fire and emergency management services, and hazardous materials experts. Integration represents a tool TMC operators can use to make better use of available data and expertise from linked agencies to support effective decision-making and action. A challenge in this project is to identify ways to communicate the need for integration to TMCs that currently exhibit a wide range of operational integration, from none to highly integrated. Appropriate concepts of integration will vary depending on the transportation context, nature of events faced by the TMC, and the operational needs of the TMC, as illustrated in the conceptual framework. Understanding where TMCs are on the dimensions of integration, as discussed in the next section, helps guide the identification of an appropriate integration concept and implementation strategy.
Integration can take many forms in support of operational performance, and it is helpful to look at the concept of integration in terms of its main component dimensions. These are illustrated in Figure 2. The baseline review of integration across numerous TMCs made it clear that successful operational performance can result from very different combinations and levels of integration across four major dimensions. A fully evolved TMC is itself an integration concept and method reflecting a high level of integration across each of the dimensions. TMCs exist to integrate technologies, agencies and information to improve the safety and efficiency of highway and transit systems. TMCs across the country exhibit a blend of three core functions: information clearing house, operations center and emergency manager. How a TMC operates in its unique environment, as determined by factors shown in Figure 1, and how it integrates across the dimensions shown in Figure 2 defines the concept of integration for that TMC. Most TMCs would agree that operations can always be improved, and most also agree that increased integration on these dimensions serves to enhance their operations.
The overall extent of integration at any TMC can be described in terms of the following five dimensions:
The approach taken in this study has included the following steps to explore the concepts and methods of weather and emergency information integration:
The remaining sections of this report include Emergency Integration (Chapter 2), Weather Integration (Chapter 3), and Conclusions (Chapter 4). Chapters 2 and 3 provide an in-depth review of current and potential future integration concepts and methods, integration challenges that TMCs may face, and recommendations for FHWA and/or TMC managers to consider as the country moves forward to enhance the level of emergency and weather integration.